Kathy Denney, left, with German shepherd Shelby, and Tessa Rawitzer, with Australian labradoodle Arnold, take a break from dog walking in Bellingham, Wash. Exercise and socialization are good for humans as well as dogs, Rawitzer says. (Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Kathy Denney, left, with German shepherd Shelby, and Tessa Rawitzer, with Australian labradoodle Arnold, take a break from dog walking in Bellingham, Wash. Exercise and socialization are good for humans as well as dogs, Rawitzer says. (Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

What does a dog really cost?

  • By Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy Chicago Tribune
  • Sunday, December 25, 2016 1:30am
  • Life

By Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy

Chicago Tribune

You’ll have to buy kibble, a collar and a leash. That, plus the upfront cost of a new pup, pretty much covers it, right?

Not quite. Most new pet owners grossly underestimate what it actually costs to own a dog, say Wisconsin veterinarians Race Foster and Marty Smith, founders of the pet supply company Drs. Foster and Smith, on PetEducation.com.

Besides food and regular veterinary care, consider licensing, electric fences or regular fencing, home crates and travel crates, training and obedience classes, boarding, dog walking, dog-sitting, grooming, teeth cleaning, treats, toys, poop bags, flea/tick meds, heartworm meds, microchips, and spay/neuter surgery, if your breeder didn’t provide it. Not to mention collateral costs such as carpet cleaning or replacement, ruined furniture, doors scratched, gardens unearthed, screens ripped or the extra deposit landlords require.

That’s if you have a healthy dog. Allergies, eye trouble and joint problems show up later.

The American Pet Products Association pegs the annual cost of a dog at $1,641. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says the annual cost is $695. Both agree first-year costs are higher.

Americans spend $23 billion every year on pet food, $15 billion on vet care and $2 billion on the initial purchase of all pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. The initial price of a dog ranges from $25 to $300, for an adoption fee for a rescue, to $3,000 and up for a specific breed.

A higher price can deliver a dog that costs less long-term. Tessa Rawitzer of Bellingham spent $2,500 on an Australian labradoodle pup, named Arnold, three years ago. That included documentation that both parents were free of inherited defects, plus neutering, shots, deworming, a crate and a manual. The breeder was recognized by the labradoodle breed association and rated by the Better Business Bureau.

Rawitzer is hoping all that will mean fewer medical bills over the dog’s life. Her previous dog, an equally beloved rescue mutt named Jake, wound up costing much more. A 115-pound mix of German shepherd, Akita, and great Dane, Jake was running when he tore one knee ligament, then a few months later, the other. Surgery and follow-up care cost $8,000. Arthritis and other issues, with accompanying pain and meds, came later.

Rawitzer has had dogs all her life, usually rescues. This time, too, she went to the local humane society first. They had Chihuahuas and pit bulls, 6 months old, heredity and temperaments unknown. “I was not going to chance it,” Rawitzer said. “You don’t know what you’re getting.”

Lynn Barklage of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, got her 2-month-old Shih Tzu and cairn terrier mix, Sandy, from a pet store. At a regular six-month checkup, the vet noticed something odd about Sandy’s leg. A trip to a specialist confirmed a genetic bone problem. Choices presented to Barklage included surgery, at $1,500, or do nothing, which could necessitate amputation later. “She was young; she had her whole life ahead. And we loved her. She was a great dog.”

Surgery was the right decision, Barklage says, but recovery was stressful and time-consuming. The first stage, sedation and caging, lasted a month. “Sandy had to keep weight off her foot. She was either in the cage or sitting on my lap.” Recovery took another four weeks and required constant watching. “But she was worth every penny. Dogs are. She lived six years after that. Her (eventual) death was devastating to us.”

Barklage has not gotten another dog. “You never know what you’re going to get. Even a purebred has issues. Unless you’ve seen where the puppy was raised, you have no idea where it came from.”

New owners overlook the potential cost of accidents, Rawitzer says. Arnold, her labradoodle, at one point lapped up a tiny, tasty bristle that had fallen out of the barbecue-cleaning brush. An X-ray, treatment and follow-up X-ray came to $400. That accident happened during regular vet hours. The next time he ate something he shouldn’t have, it was during the weekend. That trip to the emergency vet resulted in a $1,200 bill.

New owners may not consider ongoing needs, such as boarding if they travel. Grooming averages $65 plus tip per monthly visit, more if the owner doesn’t keep up with regular brushing.

More important than expense, most new owners don’t realize the time a dog requires, says vet Michelle Schraeder, owner of Mountain Veterinary Hospital in Bellingham. That includes training, socialization with other dogs and people, and whatever it takes to ensure a decent home life. It’s not OK to let a dog roam the neighborhood or be tied to a chain.

Rawitzer, a lifelong dog owner now retired from a corporate job, agrees. “You need to walk your dog. It’s excellent exercise and socialization for humans too. It’s a good way to make new friends.

“Spend the time,” Rawitzer said. “You get back a whole lot of love.”

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